Featherweight boxer Johnny Hood had 165 bouts in an amateur career which took him all over the U.S. in pursuit of expenses and eating money. Sometimes, he fought five and six nights in a row. In amateur tournaments, such as the Golden Gloves tournament in which he won the featherweight championship of Michigan, he sometimes had to take on three opponents in one night.
Born and raised in Columbus, Mont., where the Yellowstone river pours out of the Rocky Mountains, Johnny Hood felt an early attraction toward Mexico.
“I was bumming around Mexico one summer when I ran out of money,” he remembers. “I decided I would take my boxing and turn pro, but I didn’t know enough Spanish at the time to tell whether the agent said I would get 60 pesos for four rounds or four pesos for 60 rounds. You can guess which figure was correct.” Before he was though, he had 26 professional fights in Mexico.
Johnny Hood went from there to the University of Michigan where he enrolled under his real name, Jack Vaughn (Jack Hood Vaughn in full). He worked his way to a degree in Latin American studies with a job as university boxing coach, and in 1943, he signed up with the Marines as a private. Combat duty in the Pacific landed him with invasion forces on Eniwetok, Guam and Okinawa. He was decorated and discharged as a Captain in 1946.
Vaughn returned to Michigan for a master’s degree in Latin American studies and went on to each this subject at Ann Arbor for a year—as well as Spanish and French—while continuing his own studies in the adjoining summers at the National University of Mexico. He then taught Spanish for one year at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1949, he joined the U.S. Information Agency as director of the Bi-National Center in La Paz, Bolivia.
Vaughn’s duties in Bolivia’s capital required him to conduct a large-scale English language teaching program, teaching training courses, various lecture series, an information program—and to operate a library. He remained there two years, and was then sent on to do the same job in San Jose de Costa Rica.
In 1952, Vaughn went with the InternationaCooperation Administration (predecessor to AID) and was sent to Panama for four years as program officer and director of the joint-fund economic development program thee. He continued these duties—and all they involved of budgeting, planning and economic analysis—for another two years after he was asked to return to Bolivia as ICA program officer. In 1958, Vaughn completed a decade of service in Latin America by returning to the United States, where he joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies.
After a year of college teaching, he was assigned a desk in Washington as ICA program officer for Europe and Africa. In 1960, he was sent to a new part of the world, to Dakar in Africa, where as director of the U.S. Overseas Mission he was charged with setting up U.S. aid programs for Senegal, Mali and Mauretania. He joined the staff of the Peace Corps in 1961 because “the Peace Corps idea had a great appeal to me. And the people I knew who were putting this idea into effect appealed to me even more.”
Coates Redmon, who was a senior writer for the Peace Corps, tells in her book Come As You Are the story of how Vaughn heard he had been selected as the next Peace Corps Director after Sarge Shriver. It was on February 16, 1966 and Vaughn was sitting in a bar at 12:30 p.m. on M Street in Georgetown with Johnny Johnston, a former AID mission director in Cuba just before Castro made his revolution. They were old friend from Latin America days and were vaguely thinking about sitting down to lunch after a couple margaritas when the bar telephone rang. “Is there a Mr. Jack Vaughn here?” inquired the bartender nervously. Vaughn identified himself.
“Mr. Vaughn,” said the bug-eyed bartender, “it’s someone who says he’s the president of the United States.”
“Wait until I finish my drink,” said Vaughn. He threw back what remained of his second margarita. He picked up the telephone. “It wasn’t a receptionist. It wasn’t a telephone operator. It was LBJ himself.”
“Vaughn, how’d you like to be director of the Peace Corps?”
“Mr. President, I thought you’d never ask.”
“There is something
in human nature
which responds to a
challenge like this.
I believe that in the
Peace Corps the
of mankind is going
to meet a sample
of Western man at